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I came across this here.

Although the definition of "Chinese angle" is "a strange or unusual twist or aspect to something", and because there's no any context for the example question, but there is the preposition "on" before "it", I need a suggestion for the possible missing context (in order to fully understand how, when and where I might use the phrase, should I feel like doing it).

As for me, I think that it might be that someone is examining something, twisting it in his hands, for a long time, and the other one, getting bored, may say: "Well, now! Are you trying to find a Chinese angle on it?" (meaning some invisible defect).

Please, correct me if I'm wrong with my guess.

  • I don't know whether the question is OT or not, but the expression is from Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man, and it might have been current among the hard-boiled folks of the 20's and 30's, or Hammett might have created it out of whole cloth. In any case, a great book and worthy of reading! – P. E. Dant Aug 20 '16 at 19:42
  • @P.E.Dant - I read his Glass Key years ago, and I've had The Thin Man on my must read list since then. Now that you mentioned it, I think I'll take it out from my bookcase. Thanks for the comment. – Rompey Aug 20 '16 at 19:50
  • Stop screwing around and go directly to The Maltese Falcon! – P. E. Dant Aug 20 '16 at 19:51
  • I've already had both the pleasure of reading it and listening to the audiobook. I like Peter May's Lewis trilogy very much. – Rompey Aug 20 '16 at 19:59
  • By the way, a "Chinese angle," Hammett means an unexpected or innovative perspective. The inference is that, as Chinese is written from right to left, a "Chinese" perspective is similarly orthogonal to the commonplace, and might reveal something which was previously overlooked in conventional thinking. – P. E. Dant Aug 20 '16 at 20:40
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By "Chinese angle," Hammett refers here not to any defect, but rather to an unexpected or innovative perspective. The inference is that, just as Chinese is written from right to left (instead of left to right as in English) a "Chinese" perspective is similarly orthogonal to the commonplace, and might reveal something which was previously overlooked in conventional thinking.

There is also in the expression, perhaps, a trace of the then-common cultural bias against Chinese immigrants to the United States, and of the perception that they lived separate from "real" Americans and that their thinking, just as their perceived way of life, was "different."

A modern reflection of this perception and bias is immortalized in the last line of Roman Polanski's Chinatown:

Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.

  • Oh, thanks a lot! Now I need to find the context in the book, which is in front of me right now. If only you could direct me to the chapter! – Rompey Aug 20 '16 at 21:22
  • Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man, chapter 25:“You’re not trying to find a Chinese angle on it, are you,” he complained, “just because they shoot like that?” “No, but any kind of angle would help some." – Rompey Aug 20 '16 at 21:57
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    It's not only a US concept. The cricket term "Chinese cut" (less used now because of political correctness) basically means the batsman mishit the ball but got lucky. And a "Chinaman" is an unorthodox (but intentional) method of bowling which makes the ball swing the opposite way from what is expected - though the origin of that that term is attributed to a particular player from the West Indies in the 1930s, who was of Chinese descent. – alephzero Aug 21 '16 at 0:19
  • Indeed. We have something similar in baseball. (You know - the manly sport upon which the incomprehensible game of cricket is based?) /me dodges brickbat... – P. E. Dant Aug 21 '16 at 0:35
  • Note: "/me" is an old school IRC reference. In IRC, if a user types "/me" the chat client will render [username]. So "/me dodges brickbat" would be rendered on the screen as "P.E.Dant dodges brickbat." The usage "/me" is also seen elsewhere, such in Usenet, as a sort of "in joke" employed by aficionadi. – P. E. Dant Aug 21 '16 at 20:48

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